The best books by Apollo insiders

Who am I?

I have read most of the books written about Apollo, especially those ostensibly written by my fellow participants. I have read these books for pleasure, to find out about parts of the moon effort that I did not see first-hand, and to learn what I could from the authors’ mistakes and successes — with a view to the writing of my own book. The books I have come to value the most are the books that seem to have been created for some other reason than commercial gain, the books unmarred by ghostwriting or heavy-handed editing, the books where the author’s authentic voice speaks from the page.


I wrote...

Sunburst and Luminary: An Apollo Memoir

By Don Eyles,

Book cover of Sunburst and Luminary: An Apollo Memoir

What is my book about?

I was in the room and my eyes and ears were open. Almost by chance, I was hired to work on the Apollo project and they handed me the most dangerous and complex part of the mission to program in the LM’s onboard computer — the lunar landing itself. My role took me to interesting places and interesting people, astronauts for instance. I knew my way around Cape Canaveral. My code figured in several inflight dramas, one of which brought me fame for finding the solution. With all this — not to speak of my counter-culture adventures in 1960s Boston — my book is bound to thrill anyone interested in the moon mission.

The books I picked & why

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Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys

By Michael Collins,

Book cover of Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys

Why this book?

Mike Collins wrote this book not for commercial success — although he got that — but because the poet inside him demanded it. He describes his whole astronaut career, but the narrative really takes off when he switches to the present tense to describe his very exciting flight in 1966 on Gemini 10 with John Young, and again, when he comes to Apollo 11. On that mission, he was the astronaut who waited alone in moon orbit while Neil and Buzz flew down to the surface in the Lunar Module. As poet/pilot he gives us both the intricacy and the majesty of spaceflight, with a wry regard for its quirks, paradoxes, and weird personalities.

Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys

By Michael Collins,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Carrying the Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reissued with a new preface by the author on the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 journey to the moon

The years that have passed since Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins piloted the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the moon in July 1969 have done nothing to alter the fundamental wonder of the event: man reaching the moon remains one of the great events―technical and spiritual―of our lifetime.

In Carrying the Fire, Collins conveys, in a very personal way, the drama, beauty, and humor of that adventure. He also traces his development from his first flight experiences in the…


Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module

By Thomas J. Kelly,

Book cover of Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module

Why this book?

I visited Grumman in Bethpage, New York after Apollo 14 and had the rare privilege of entering the cavernous cleanroom where the final moon landers were being assembled. Grumman loved me because my software fix had kept their defective switch from ruining the mission. I believe Tom Kelly was at the table in the executive dining room that day. His book is a gritty account of how, finally, after many failures, many frustrations, NASA pressure, managerial chest-thumping, test and retest, the lunar modules were finally delivered. Even the book’s flaws are interesting, such as how he spins certain inflight events, of which I believe my own account is more balanced.

Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module

By Thomas J. Kelly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Moon Lander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chief engineer Thomas J. Kelly gives a firsthand account of designing, building, testing, and flying the Apollo lunar module. It was, he writes, “an aerospace engineer’s dream job of the century.” Kelly’s account begins with the imaginative process of sketching solutions to a host of technical challenges with an emphasis on safety, reliability, and maintainability. He catalogs numerous test failures, including propulsion-system leaks, ascent-engine instability, stress corrosion of the aluminum alloy parts, and battery problems, as well as their fixes under the ever-present constraints of budget and schedule. He also recaptures the exhilaration of hearing Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong report…

Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race

By David Scott, Alexei Leonov, Christine Toomey

Book cover of Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race

Why this book?

This is a buddy story, two guys telling their parallel stories in interleaved fashion. Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov flew in Earth orbit three times and made the first spacewalk. Dave Scott went to the Moon as commander of Apollo 15. They are the same age, both kids old enough to remember the Second World War. Both military pilots who might have been ordered to fight each other, who instead through the adventure of spaceflight became friends. They are thoughtful, open-minded, generous. Here, in their own words, they share their perspectives. 

Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race

By David Scott, Alexei Leonov, Christine Toomey

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Two Sides of the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"An extraordinary book."
---Arthur C. Clarke

Space was one of the most fiercely fought battlegrounds of the Cold War, the Moon its ultimate beachhead.

In this dual autobiography, Apollo 15 commander David Scott and cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first man to ever walk in space, recount their exceptional lives and careers spent on the cutting edge of science and space exploration―and their participation in the greatest technological race ever―to land a man on the Moon.

With each mission fraught with perilous tasks, and each space program touched by tragedy, these parallel tales of adventure and heroism read like a modern-day…


Journey to the Moon (Library of Flight)

By Eldon C. Hall,

Book cover of Journey to the Moon (Library of Flight)

Why this book?

Eldon Hall led the development of the Apollo Guidance Computer, that one-cubic-foot device with 76kb of memory that navigated, guided, and controlled each of the Apollo spacecraft — the machine that I helped program. His book is both a detailed description of the Apollo computer and a history of its development. The most dramatic chapter chronicles the bold decision to use integrated circuits in the design of the computer — all of the same type, to encourage the vendor to keep making them — although that technology was then anything but reliable. 

Journey to the Moon (Library of Flight)

By Eldon C. Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Journey to the Moon (Library of Flight) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first of its kind, Journey to the Moon details the history and design of the computer that enabled U.S. astronauts to land on the moon. The book recalls the history of computer technology, both hardware and software, and the applications of digital computing to missile guidance systems and manned spacecraft. The book also offers graphics and photos drawn from the Draper Laboratories' archives that illustrate the technology and related events during the Apollo project. Written for experts as well as lay persons, Journey to the Moon is the first book of its kind and a must for anyone interested…

All-American Boys

By Walter Cunningham,

Book cover of All-American Boys

Why this book?

Cunningham was one of those mean little SOBs, and his attitude was hardly improved when his astronaut career was torpedoed by the bad behavior of his mission commander on Apollo 7, Wally Schirra, which tainted the entire crew for the NASA brass. It turns out that Cunningham could also write, and the result is this pungent memoir — the title is loaded with irony. It is the least constrained of all the astronaut memoirs, unmistakably in Cunningham’s own pugnacious voice. 

All-American Boys

By Walter Cunningham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All-American Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

EDITORIAL REVIEW: *The All-American Boys* is a no-holds-barred candid memoir by a former Marine jet jockey and physicist who became NASA's second civilian astronaut. Walter Cunningham presents the astronauts in all their glory in this dramatically revised and updated edition that was considered an instant classic in its first edition over two decades ago. From its insider's view of the pervasive "astropolitics" that guided the functioning of the astronaut corps to its thoughtful discussion of the Columbia tragedy, *The All-American Boys* resonates with Cunningham's passion for humanity's destiny in space which endures today. This is a story of the triumph…

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